Saturday, January 06, 2007

Worth reading this weekend

1. Julian Barnes’s ‘The Past Conditional’: a humorous, sad and moving memoir of family life, death and belief:

At the undertaker’s, I touched her cheek several times, then kissed her at the hairline. No, she didn’t look awful: there was nothing overpainted about her, and her hair, she would have been pleased to know, was looking good. (“Of course, I never dye it—it’s all natural,” she once boasted to my brother’s wife.) Was she so cold because she’d been in the freezer, or because the dead are naturally cold? Wanting to see her dead came more, I admit, from writerly curiosity than from filial feeling, but there was a bidding farewell to be done, for all my long exasperation with her. “Well done, Ma,” I murmured. She had, indeed, done the dying “better” than my father. He had endured a series of small, then larger, strokes, his decline stretching over years; she had gone from first attack to death altogether more efficiently and speedily. When I picked up her bag of clothes from the residential home, it felt heavier than I thought it should. First I discovered a full bottle of Harveys Bristol Cream, and then, in a square cardboard box, an untouched birthday cake, shop-bought by village friends who had visited her on her final, eighty-second birthday.

2. DMZ, a graphic novel from Brian Wood (no relation). I stumbled across this by way of, in a collection of comics ‘about’ Iraq. DMZ, on the surface, is not about Iraq as such, but rather about a future in which America is itself divided by a civil war. The depiction of Manhattan as the front line of a domestic insurgency, however, is clearly relevant to understanding today’s reality in Baghdad and other cities. The first issue can be downloaded for free (as a PDF file) here. (It is, as they say, intended for 'mature readers'.)

3. An interview with science fiction author Bruce Sterling about writer J. G. Ballard (at the excellent online resource Ballardian). I have liked a few of Sterling’s books, and, moreover, I have become rather obsessed with the works of J. G. Ballard over the last few years. Sterling, here, is quite clear-headed about the impact and aims of a remarkable fellow author:

But he’s not extrapolating anything. He’s not a futurist, is he?

Well, he is a futurist, and he’s always extrapolating something or other, but he’s usually extrapolating dark motivations.

More social science than physical science?

No, I don’t think it’s even social science. I mean, a book like Crash is like a guy who’s studied hardcore porn, like bondage porn. The kind of porn where people are so trussed up in like ropes and bags that it’s weirdly asexual, like latex porn, or one of these really extreme levels of fetishism that are close to mental breakdown. And he’s thought: why doesn’t someone do this with cars? That’s an extrapolation. It’s like saying, okay, given A and given C, given latex porn, what about people who have sex with car collisions? And in point of fact, there doesn’t seem to be a reason why people couldn’t get obsessed with car collisions. On the face of it it’s like saying, given a car, why not a flying car – which is a very standard sci-fi extrapolation.

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